Picture this: it’s Thursday, the eve of a long weekend. You can’t wait to go home and de-stress the best way you know how: by doing absolutely nothing. You’ve even taken Tuesday off! The possibilities are endless; you can’t wait to kick back and relax.
You end up sitting on the couch not knowing what to do with yourself. It feels so weird not doing anything. You get through Friday without doing anything work-related, but by Saturday, you can’t help yourself–you check your email. By the time Tuesday ends, you don’t feel de-stressed or well rested at all because you spent the majority of your time doing or thinking about work.
How many times have you had an experience like that?
The key to work-life balance is having and enforcing boundaries between your work and the rest of your life. If you can’t seem to turn off your “work mode”, though, you won’t be able to set and stay faithful to these boundaries.
When you’re not at work, you’re not going to be fully present in the moment; your mind is always going back to work even if your body isn’t. Consequently, the quality of your life will take a hit.
Knowing how to turn off your “work mode” is a vital stress management skill that also forms the basis of good work-life balance. Unfortunately, our brains don’t come with operational manuals.
Just like any other necessary life skill, though, cultivating the ability to turn off your work mode requires hard work. Here are five practices you can do to get started.
P.S. Don’t take your work-life balance lightly: learn what you need to know to stay sane and healthy while performing well at work with SSA Academy’s WSQ course on developing personal effectiveness!
If you want to stop thinking obsessively about work, you need to stop worrying about it. But telling yourself to “just stop worrying” won’t solve anything.
Often, the root of that worry lies in you feeling that you haven’t done enough at work. Hence, you can’t stop thinking about how you can do more.
This is actually a good thing, provided it’s directed to the appropriate channels. Harness this mental energy proactively by channeling it towards honest self-appraisal of your goals at work. Spend a few minutes at the start and end of each work day to look at how you can maximise your time and energy to make the greatest strides towards your goals.
Having ambiguous goals, ambiguous strategies towards those goals, and ambiguous appraisals of progress towards them greatly exacerbates your stress and contributes to your inability to stop thinking about work.
Conversely, having mental clarity around your work goals makes it easier for you to let go of your worries when you need to. Since you know what progress constitutes and that you are making good progress, you won’t worry about it as much when you’re not at work.
What if you already have clarity in goals, but you still can’t stop worrying about work? Try and reflect on the deeper-seated issues behind it.
Is it because you don’t think you’re good enough to meet your goals, so you’re constantly worrying about it? Is it because you’ve based your self-worth almost entirely on your successes and failures at work, so you keep toiling because you don’t want to fail and be seen as worthless? Is it because you’re in a constant wild goose chase for perfection in your work?
Depending on the root cause, the remedy differs. As a whole, though, it involves redefining your perspectives on what it means to be a good worker.
If you worry about being incompetent, know that the best employees are the ones who are willing to learn and adapt, not necessarily the ones with the best technical skills.
If you worry about failing and being perceived as worthless, know that the best employees embrace failure as a chance for growth.
If you’re a perfectionist, realise that it actually holds you back from your greatest successes (here’s why.)
If work takes up too much of your time, you won’t know what to do when you’re not at work. As a result, even when you want to sit and do nothing so that you can de-stress, you end up staying in work mode because it’s just what you’re used to.
De-stressing isn’t always about shutting your mind down; sometimes it’s about redirecting excess mental energy to non-work-related pursuits. To that end, try picking up a personal project outside of work.
It could be a creative pursuit like photography or painting, or a more physical one like hiking or rock-climbing. Making space and time outside of work to participate in endeavours like these can be a really good way to de-stress.
If you feel like you’re always on work mode because your mind is constantly in overdrive, it might be a sign that you’ve overstimulated it. If it’s always in high-functioning mode, your mental and emotional reserves will deplete much more rapidly.
Consider incorporating mindfulness practices like meditation into your life to allow your mind to power down, recharge, and recalibrate itself. That doesn’t necessitate lavish weekly spa retreats. Remember: the most effective acts are the ones that are performed most consistently.
For instance, making a regular habit out of de-stressing through meditating, can be much more effective than splurging on an annual 5-day vacation to the Maldives as a panacea for the stress you’ve accumulated all year round.
Smartphones are both our kryptonite and our proverbial spinach (a la Popeye.) They open up vast new worlds of possibilities, without much guidance or regulation on how to navigate these worlds. While they’ve enabled us to stay connected 24/7, they’ve also facilitated the blurring of boundaries between work and life.
Most of us have our work emails connected to our phones and office communicators (like Slack.) This alone encourages existing tendencies to stay in constant work mode.
The solution: exercise self-control when using your phone for work. When you’re not at work, take the appropriate measures to regulate your phone usage.
If you can afford to have a separate smartphone just for work, do it, then turn it off after working hours.
Otherwise, there are other cost-effective solutions. Android phones, for example, have built-in work profiles that you can turn on and off, while iPhones have a Do-Not-Disturb mode that turns off all notifications and alerts. More simply, you can commit to not replying work-related emails and texts when you’re not at work.